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He’s still just ‘blowing in the wind’

By Staff | Mar 20, 2016

I know, I know. You are going to think that you have already read this column and it is a repeat.

That is because you are right, you have read it.

Well, sort of, anyway.

I have written in this space before about my friend Jim Nichols of Lake Benton, Minnesota. Jim is a farmer and a former state representative and a former Minnesota Commissioner of Agriculture. He has also been involved in local politics in Lake Benton and Lincoln County.

But, it is his vision for wind power development that sets him apart from other politico types.

Remember, I wrote that it was back in the early 1990s when Nichols spoke passionately about developing wind power in Minnesota, particularly along the Buffalo Ridge in southwest Minnesota in fact, Jim had the vision of wind power being developed across all of southern Minnesota.

At the time there was not a single wind turbine/tower in the state.

He talked me and several others into going to St. Paul and lobbying at the State Capitol for the state legislature to back new legislation which would literally force energy companies to eventually purchase up to 20 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources like wind and solar.

In exchange, NSP (Northern States Power) received permission to store nuclear waste at their power plant near Red Wing.

But, I digress.

There are two reasons why I am writing about Mr. Nichols again.

First, in this week’s Faribault County Register, reporter Katie Mullaly’s story about the Faribault County Board of Commissioner’s meeting has information about a wind power developer being present at the meeting.

He was looking for support for a new wind project in the county and calls Faribault County a prime spot for additional wind towers.

Second, Jim Nichols wrote a letter to the editor in last week’s Lake Benton Valley Journal. In it, he talks about two more wind power projects coming to Lincoln County and the Buffalo Ridge.

Both projects will be 200-megawatts in size, create 200 construction jobs in the county and 12 permanent jobs.

He also touts some other remarkable figures in his letter. For instance, Lincoln County (with a population of just over 6,000 in the whole county) collects $1 million in property taxes from the wind turbines now dotting the countryside there. And, each new wind turbine now makes a $5,000 easement payment each year to the farmer/landowner the tower is located on.

Nichols writes that since that energy law we lobbied for was passed back in 1994, the counties in southwest Minnesota have received more than $100 million in easement payments to farmers and property taxes to counties.

A real economic boon which he had predicted would happen.

In his letter, Jim goes on to write that wind turbines are now producing electricity for three cents per kilowatt hour (kwh) and that is the lowest priced electricity in America. He writes that much of our electricity costs about six cents per kwh wholesale and can sell for as much as 14 cents per kwh to the rural consumer.

And, the average new wind turbine produces electricity to the equivalent of 12 barrels of oil per day, while an average oil well pumps 10.3 barrels of oil per day, Nichols says. And, he adds, while the oil fields of North Dakota will be pumped dry in 27 years, the wind on the Buffalo Ridge will never stop blowing.

Obviously, Jim Nichols is still a strong proponent for wind power, both for it being a clean energy and for the boost it makes for a local, rural economy.

He is still lobbying for it, and last month he and others were in Washington D.C. testifying at a public hearing before Congress about the Clean Power Plan and the need for more wind energy.

Clearly, he writes, wind energy is lower cost and better for the environment.

Whether you love the fact that wind energy is being developed across southern Minnesota, or hate the look of these large towers dotting the landscape, you have Jim Nichols to credit or blame for bringing wind power to Minnesota.

As for me, I just still marvel at the fact that what Jim told me back in 1994 would happen, has happened.

And, I think it just goes to show that one person with a vision can make a big difference in this world.